What is Social Marketing? | Marketing Partners VT

Behavior Change Communication • Social and Behavior Change Communication • Public Interest Communication • Social Marketing in Public Health  Community-Based Social Marketing  Social Change Marketing • Social Good Marketing Communications • Marketing for Good 


Social marketing, also known as behavior change communication or public interest communication, describes a strategic communication approach with the main goal of achieving significant and sustained positive behavioral change on a public interest issue that transcends the particular interests of any single organization.

The social marketing approach grew out of the differences between marketing solely for commercial benefit (profit) and marketing for social benefit.

There is no one accepted definition for the term for social marketing. Why the multiple terms? We delve into the evolution of alternative terms for the classic 'social marketing approach' in a blog post here: Social Marketing: Why It’s Past Time to Reframe and Rebrand

We originally had high hopes for clarity from the consensus definition of social marketing shown below: 

The following definition is endorsed by the Boards of the International Social Marketing Association, European Social Marketing Association, and Australian Association of Social Marketing.


Social Marketing is an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behaviour for their benefit. Whereas marketing in the commercial world ultimately seeks to influence consumer behaviour for profit, social marketing encourages behaviours that provide benefit for individuals and society as a whole. 

Social Marketing practice is guided by ethical principles. It seeks to integrate research, best practice, theory, audience and partnership insight, to inform the delivery of competition sensitive and segmented social change programmes that are effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable.san_serif_quote4close-1


Note that social marketing is not the same as social media marketing or cause marketing.

For your reference, here is how we describe the Social Marketing Approach.

        • Social marketing programs are designed to achieve a specific social good; That is they work to help people make better choices or to improve society or the world in some way, rather than working to benefit the sponsoring organization.
        • The focus is on behavior change (for individuals or society), not simply awareness or attitude change.
        • Social marketing programs are based on formative research with the target population, and on the benefits and barriers-to-change affecting behavior.
        • Social marketing programs involve multiple public sector and non-profit partners.
        • Social marketing programs are designed based on a combination of research-based social change theories and behavior change models such as diffusion of innovation, social norms, stages of change model, social learning theory or theory of planned behavior.

Yet the confusion continues. For public health and international efforts, the term social marketing has a clear and accepted definition as defined above.

For other communication programs, the emerging field of public interest communication best captures the intent and approach of using communication to drive lasting, positive change on a public interest issue that transcends the particular interests of any single organization.

No matter what you prefer to call it, we are particularly enthusiastic about using the proven 'social marketing' approach to achieve a specific social good, and welcome the opportunity for a conversation about your project.


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